by Brian Clarey
The energy drained from the room at the Greensboro Coliseum where Sen. Kay Hagan planned to celebrate her re-election just as Hagan’s lead evaporated over her challenger Thom Tillis.
Her early-voting totals gave her an edge of more than 75,000 votes, 52 percent in the three-way race that also included Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh.
But when the numbers began coming in from the rural counties, Hagan’s lead dropped from 5 percent to 4.
While Alma Adams, elected Tuesday night to fill the 12th Congressional District vacated by Mel Watt when he was tapped 10 months ago by President Obama as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, basked in her landslide victory against Vince Coakley, Hagan’s lead slipped another point.
When US Congressional candidate Laura Fjeld took the podium to make her concession speech after her race against Mark Walker was called, Hagan and Tillis drew even, and by the time she was done the script had flipped.
Tillis’ lead grew as the precinct totals rolled in, and not even a late blast from the urban counties of Guilford, Forsyth, Wake and Mecklenberg could bring her back.
It was a microcosm of the last days of the campaign, as increasingly nasty and bizarre ads from both parties flooded the state airwaves and Tillis’ poll numbers started to rise.
Tillis put up big numbers in the rural counties — locally, he garnered 73 percent of the vote in Randolph County, 69 percent in Davidson and 74 percent in Yadkin. Strong numbers for Hagan in urban counties weren’t enough to defend her seat.
Tillis’ win adds to the Senate seats flipped by Republicans this election, including wins in Arkansas, West Virginia, Montana, South Dakota and Colorado. A Senate race in Virginia was too close to call at press time. With the wins the GOP reclaims a majority in the Senate after eight years in the minority.
The race between Hagan and Tillis generated an estimated $113 million, according to opensecrets.org, spent on ads and mailers. More than $81 million of it spent by outside groups.
Tillis’ ads characterized Hagan as being in lockstep with President Obama, who lost North Carolina in 2012. Hagan painted Tillis as extreme, out of touch and hostile to women. The most bizarre ad supported Libertarian candidate Haugh as a pro-marijuana legislator, though the ad was paid for by the American Future Fund, an organization whose donors are kept secret but that has accepted money from the Koch brothers in the past. It is unclear if the aim of pulling voters away from Hagan to Haugh’s camp worked, but Haugh garnered 3.7 percent of the vote as of press time, roughly double the gap between Hagan and Tillis.
Either way, Hagan, who hails from Greensboro, couldn’t beat state House Speaker Tillis even with all the financial muscle she could muster.
It was the most expensive Senate race in US history, according to openscrets.org.